The USS Pueblo, under Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, was captured by North Korea in 1968, the first U.S. Navy ship hi-jacked by a foreign military force in more than 150 years.
The details of the capture of the Banner-class technical research ship (Navy intelligence) remain murky even to this day. North Korea insisted the ship had strayed into its territorial waters. The United States maintains that the vessel was in international waters.
Either way, the Pueblo found itself in the sights of a sub chaser. When the ship's nationality was challenged the Pueblo responded by raising the U.S. flag. The North Korean vessel then ordered the American ship to stand down or be fired upon. Pueblo attempted to maneuver away, but was considerably slower than the sub chaser. Soon torpedo boats appeared on the horizon and MiG-21 fighters in the sky. Finally, a fourth torpedo boat and a second sub chaser also came onto the scene.
Even while all this firepower was amassing against it, the Pueblo's ammunition was in storage below decks and its machine guns were wrapped in cold-weather tarpaulins and unmanned.
The North Koreans attempted to board Pueblo, but when the US ship's crew resisted the sub chasers opened cannon fire while the smaller vessels hit the Pueblo with their machine guns.
The Americans signaled compliance and then furiously attempted to destroy all the sensitive material on board. But it was too late. There was too much material on board and that made it impossible to destroy everything.
Pueblo acquiesced and followed the North Korean vessels as ordered but then stopped immediately outside North Korean waters. After losing a man, the Pueblo was finally boarded. The remaining crew members had their hands tied, were blindfolded, and then beaten and prodded with bayonets.
What was the reason for this provocation? Likely North Korea was merely doing the Soviet Union's bidding, attacking Pueblo to find a cryptographic machine onboard that would match a key provided by the infamous spy, John Walker.
Pueblo, still held by North Korea to this very day, is used to promote anti-Americanism.
The very coat and pants worn by Pueblo Commander Lloyd M. Bucher when he came out of North Korea are poignantly displayed as the centerpiece of the National Cryptologic Museum's USS Pueblo exhibit.Return to videos